Sure, technically he's not Santa Claus, but this year one West Virginia police officer is going beyond the call of duty to serve kids in his community by giving them Christmas gifts.
South Charleston police officer Tony Messer has rallied an online community of supporters to raise money for Christmas gifts for the children of his city. Thanks to many generous donations, Messer was able to purchase bicycles for kids who might otherwise have received little for Christmas, as too many Americans face economic hardship during the coronavirus pandemic.
"We raised almost $2,000 for bikes, and we just bought 25 bikes," Messer told WCHS-TV. "And that's something that this community, they're all so proud of, so that's amazing."
The project, called "Operation Santa's Handlebars," began months ago when Messer created a Facebook page to reach out to his community and humanize police officers during the summer unrest as Black Lives Matter and anti-police rioters set U.S. cities on fire. He began by streaming video games and making posts about his efforts to engage with the community he protects.
"I wanted to build some kind of community, and I never thought it would be what it is now. We do a thing that we want to humanize the badge. So, I want to be a better person. I want to be a better police officer, and I want to set goals for kids who are growing up. I started the page, Officer Messer, and it just kind of took off," he said.
His page now has more than 10,000 followers from all over the country. Many kind supporters donated to help Messer buy bikes for kids.
"We have so many people who have a goal on here to do stuff for these kids that are not going to have a good Christmas. It's because of these people, all 51 people behind us, watching right now. It's because of them, it really is," he said.
Messer also wants to use his Facebook page to honor other police officers who tragically were killed in the line of duty, like officer Cassie Johnson of Charleston, who recently died two days after being shot while responding to a parking complaint.
"We want to start a scholarship for a criminal justice program for female officers, something like that, just to keep her name in memory because of everything she sacrificed for this community," Messer said.
A post pinned to the top of Officer Messer's Facebook page links to a GoFundMe account set up for Johnson's family.